Boston is chock full of American history, and I don’t mean the boring kind. You can feel it on the cobblestones under your feet and taste it in a bowl of authentic New England clam chowder. From Paul Revere’s Midnight Ride to the Boston Tea Party, Boston is alive with the kind of historical and literary past that speaks to children. And the best part about visiting Boston with kids is that you can do most of it on foot without overdoing it with the museum visits, which can easily turn into family death-marches after a couple of days. It helps that Boston is so easy to navigate on foot, although some of the cobble-stoned and brick sidewalks in the historical section can be a challenge with a stroller.
Below are some suggestions to help you get the most of your family trip to Boston, with plenty of history and plenty of play time, a classic hotel that is sure to keep the kids on their best behavior(!), and a great spot to enjoy clam chowder in a historical setting.
Activity 1: Play in the Country’s Oldest City Park
Boston Common is the oldest public park in the United States. Through the years, it has served as a British Redcoats encampment, an anti-slavery meeting place, and a World War I Victory garden. Today, it’s a wonderful place to take a little break from the city and spend a lovely afternoon with the kids.
A perennial family favorite, the Frog Pond is a splash/spray pool in the summer and is transformed into a small ice-skating rink in the winter. With a nearby carousel and the excellent Tadpole Playground within arm’s reach, you could plan on spending hours here. And don’t miss the park’s most famous attraction, the Make Way for Ducklings statue. It’s based on the beloved children’s book by Walter McCloskey about a family of ducklings that makes its home in Boston’s Public Garden. Website: www.boston.gov/parks/boston-common
Activity 2: Set Sail on the USS Constitution
Built during the birth of the United States and named by George Washington himself, the USS Constitution is the oldest commissioned ship in the U.S. Navy. Its colorful history includes fighting pirates off the Barbary Coast and defeating four British frigates during the War of 1812. Her nickname, Old Ironsides, attests to this ship’s unsinkable legend. A Navy crew mans the ship and also serves as interpretive guides during your visit, sharing tales of the ship’s fascinating history.
The USS Constitution Museum, also on site, has plenty of hands-on exhibits to keep little ones entertained and older ones and their parents informed. Website: www.navy.mil/local/constitution/visitors.asp
Note: Visiting hours are limited so check the website for a full schedule. Admission to the ship is free and there is a suggested donation for the museum. You will need to show ID and have your bags checked for entrance.
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Activity 3: Play Indoors at the Boston Children’s Museum
History is great but sometimes, especially in the cold depths of winter or during a summer heat wave, you need to get the kids indoors to expend some energy. The Boston Children’s Museum is the second oldest children’s museum in the country and is definitely one of the best.
Kids find plenty of ways to get the wiggles out, from the indoor “skating” area, which takes sock-skating to the next level, to a huge climbing structure. You’ll also want to spend time exploring the various theme rooms found throughout the museum’s three floors. The construction room is always a hit as is the Japanese house, a two-story hundred-year-old merchant’s house from Kyoto.
Try to visit first thing in the morning on a week day. It gets crowded on weekends and holidays. Website: www.bostonchildrensmuseum.org
Tip: If you have a membership to your local children’s museum that has reciprocal admission privileges (many do), you may be able to get in free of charge.
Activity 4: Stroll Through History on the Freedom Trail
The beautiful thing about the Freedom Trail is that you can get a really good feel for the times and events of that pivotal point in history without having to spend much time indoors. It’s perfect if you’re expecting a fair-weather visit to Boston with kids. This two-and-a-half-mile trail illustrates the history of the American Revolutionary War. Explored it all in one day or split it into several days if you prefer.
Begin your tour with a family reading of Longellow’s poem “Paul Revere’s Ride.” Then head to the Old North Church and Paul Revere’s House as they are both located in Boston’s North End. Old North Church is where Paul Revere famously signaled “one if by land, and two if by sea.” Across the street from the church you’ll see Paul Revere’s house. Built in 1680, is the oldest standing structure in Boston, and where he lived with his family when he took his famous midnight ride.
Also of particular interest to kids is America’s first public school, Boston Latin School. And the “who’s who” of Boston cemeteries, Granary Burial Ground, is where Benjamin Franklin’s parents, Paul Revere, Samuel Adams, and all the Boston Massacre victims are laid to rest. Website: www.thefreedomtrail.org
Tip: Download a map of the freedom trail to plan out your route. https://www.thefreedomtrail.org/freedom-trail/maps.shtml
1 Great Place to Stay: Loews Boston Hotel
Loews Boston Hotel is a crisply-renovated hotel in a classic building. This former police department headquarters (tell the kids to be on their best behavior) is in a great location. It’s just a five-minute walk to Back Bay Station and five minutes from the Public Garden and Boston Common. They offer adjoining rooms, fabulous bathrooms, and free coffee in the lobby.
Also, check out the Loews Loves Kids program during your visit. You can request to borrow a stroller, car seat, and toys, and, for older kids, a lending library of video and board games and a guide of teen-friendly local activities and shopping. Website: https://www.loewshotels.com/boston-hotel
1 Great Place to Eat: “Chowda” and Chocolate Chips at Faneuil Hall Marketplace
You may find that you return to Faneuil Hall again and again during your visit to Boston with kids. Thanks to the wide range of choices in this massive food you won’t be stuck eating pizza at every meal. And it is in a historical site (OK, that one isn’t much of a reach—you are in Boston, after all). Faneuil Hall was the site of many of the nation’s famous speeches; perhaps most noteworthy are those by Frederick Douglass and Samuel Adams.
When in Boston, you’ll need to try Boston clam chowder and Boston Chowda Company serves one of the best. You can also get Maine lobsta—I mean lobster—rolls, New England pot pies, and sandwiches and wraps. And since you’re in the great food court that is Faneuil Hall, dessert is only steps away. Don’t miss the scrumptious chocolate chip cookies at the Chipyard. Website: www.bostonchowda.com and www.chipyard.com
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